“I am my School” and other Student Prayers for New York

Goliaths fall when adults like Saul get out of David’s way.

For the last twelve months, student leaders from greater New York have proven this truism time and again. Now some are organizing a citywide prayer walk of 1,600 public schools the weekend of Halloween and inviting the city’s 7,100 churches to participate.

Imagine that: students leading congregations as together they intercede for 1.1 million public school students — on a weekend long symbolic of darkness and mayhem.

This second I Am My School effort, spearheaded by student leaders from God Belongs in My City and 20/20 Vision for Schools, expands a May 15 pilot that included ten walks in four boroughs covering twenty-five schools.

The students will pray, “I am my school,” because “I am,” the name God calls Himself, has sent them to love and serve and transform their schools.  On the Monday following the walk, students will wear I Am My School t-shirts to school in an effort to identify other Christians on campus.  They will also encourage their churches to adopt one school within walking distance for ongoing prayer, advocacy, and service.

This kind of catalytic student leadership is exactly what Latino Pastoral Action Center hoped to inspire on September 12, 2009, when they produced “Kickin’ it Old Skool,” the first student leadership conference in collective memory that was actually led by students. Most “student leadership” events involve adults teaching students, or adults teaching other adults how to lead students. Rarely do adults voluntarily play a supporting role to students leading the event.

LPAC empowered twelve student organizers from four boroughs defy the stereotype and design a leadership event that they and other students would lead, armed with a budget to pull it off.  Sixty-eight of their peers gathered for the conference at Washington Irving High School in Manhattan, and 175 enjoyed the evening concert as well.

At Kickin’ It, LPAC’s President Rev. Dr. Raymond Rivera called students, “essential to efforts to transform communities.” Then he charged them, “Share your story. Declare your future. Inspire other students. Remember, tomorrow needs you. Prepare for it today.”

Little did he know that less than two months later, three of the Kickin’ It student organizers would rally a dozen or so other students to coordinate God Belongs in My City, the largest student led prayer walk in New York City.  Fifteen hundred marchers walked a total of eight miles in Manhattan culminating in a Times Square rally and silent prayer “flash mob” in the main lobby of Grand Central Station.

In May 2010, those same empowered students organized the I Am My School pilot that provides the basis for the upcoming effort.

Another recent manifestation of authentic student leadership occurred at Reload 1.2.3, the groundbreaking multi-state, multi-site youth training event on June 12 that required every adult involved in the program — from musicians and singers to trainers and general session speakers — to integrate a “Plus-1″ student protégé into their content delivery.  With live music and workshops at all three venues, this strategy created a platform for more than fifty student leaders to provide meaningful leadership at a premiere training event for more than five hundred youth workers.  Kickin’ It student leaders presented the “Student Led Student Leadership: Pipedream or Possible?” workshop that was simulcast to all three venues.

Dr. Larry Acosta, president of Urban Youth Workers Institute, challenged adult leaders at Reload 1.2.3, “You need to empower youth to lead with real ministry opportunities,” not just “passing the offering plates every fifth Sunday.”

To the Plus-1’s and other student leaders, Larry exhorted: “We need you … to rise up and lead the church into the future. You’re alive at this time in history at such a time as this. We need you to help us complete the Great Commission in the cities, in the … neighborhoods, in the projects, in the parks, in the places where too many from my generation are afraid to go.”

The Biblical character David was an untested teenager, a shepherd boy with no military training, when he simultaneously proved to be the only man among soldiers courageous enough to confront the giant Goliath. For forty days, Goliath’s taunts paralyzed Israel’s army with fear. Then David overheard the mockery, witnessed the cowardice of the adults around him, and was moved to action. The rest, as they say, is history.

Join veteran leaders like Dr. Rivera and Dr. Acosta in creating space for young people to continue making history. For more information on I Am My School, sign up online at 2020schools.net/i-am-my-school.

– Jeremy Del Rio was 13 when his youth pastor invited him to preach, 19 when his senior pastor asked him to start a youth group, and today directs 20/20 Vision for Schools, a movement to transform public education within one generation of students. www.JeremyDelRio.com

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